Monday 21 September 2015

Sociology Meets Piggate

I remember well my first night at university. Being one of the first to arrive at my halls of residence, yours truly took it upon himself to knock on everyone's door to do the introductions and ask if they fancied going for a drink later. Ten of us duly hit the union and got pretty sozzled, and I ended up finishing in a room shared by twin sisters talking shite over several spliffs with a couple of new mates. Fun times.

While a good proportion of readers who've been through the higher education system have had similar experiences to the one described above, our social betters are far more outrageous. I can wince about nights closing with my arms draped around the toilet bowl, or recall snogging young women I should have steered clear of. But never shall I look back at the time one had an intimate entanglement with a dead pig.

It's been a right old laugh to be sure, but let's get chin stroky about it. On the source of the story, it's not too difficult to pin down. As Isabel Oakeshott - Lord Ashcroft's co-writer on the (very) unauthorised biography of Dave - admitted on C4 News earlier, it's not difficult to work out who the "Tory MP contemporary at Oxford" source might be, though I look forward to him rebutting similar questions when the limelight swings back his way. Yet, does it really matter. Truth is, if something scurrilous about a left MP was published - like the crap thrown at Jeremy Corbyn this last week, we'd recognise it as shoddy journalism. Which, of course, it is. Why Oakeshott has immolated her career this way is a mystery, but not so Lord Ashcroft's motives. After all, buying a senior cabinet position for £8m and ending up with a crappy kettle monitor's role has got to burn.

But really, beyond the comedy, does it matter? Yes, actually, it does. Not because of salaciousness or the entertaining stupidity of one's younger days. On the whole, what's in the past should stay there. The only exception is if private scandal then means public impropriety now. Yet something rings true about the allegation beyond did Dave/didn't Dave. We know young men from well-heeled families have a thing for disgusting initiation rites. Toby Young, wheeling himself out to defend the PM's character earlier, said of Oxford's secret societies:
the venerable, all-male institutions where Oxford's social elite are initiated into Britain's ruling class, [can look forward to] receiving instruction on such arcane rituals as how to "bumper" a yard of port, slice the cork off a champagne bottle with a sword and engage in a range of sexual practices that would make Belle de Jour blush.
These borderline legal and repugnant practices (a yard of port?) have their functions. One's humiliation becomes the basis of experiences shared only by a self-selected elite. To participants and outsiders enraptured by such things - itinerant waifs and social climbers seeking admittance into and the affirmation of the top networks - the feats of endurance and perversion these rites involve confer an aura of exclusivity on the in-group. An outsider never knows quite what they might be required to do, and balking them at the moment of reveal can spell social death and effect one's chances after Oxbridge. Especially in the lucrative city non-jobs many of these young men move into. The second is a form of solidarity. All the in-group know the unsavoury practices each and everyone has gone through to be there. The price of social exclusivity and its post-graduation rewards are purchased with the understanding of potential (future) social suicide. The group have to hang together or, in a manner of speaking, they will hang separately. The outward facing aura and the veiled inward-facing threat underpins a solidarity that can bind a network together for decades. And as we know from the PM's reluctance to ever sack anyone, Dave is very much attached to his friends.

The pig stuff gets the shock factor, but it lifts the lid on the sorts of ritualised practices our ruling class use to admit and police its boundaries. If it makes them look ridiculous and debauched as a collective, then perhaps Oakeshott and Ashcroft's muckraking will have served a useful purpose.


Phil said...

I'd be amazed if Toby Young's contemporaries were drinking port by the yard. A typical yard glass holds about two and a half pints, which equates to somewhere north of 25 units of alcohol, i.e. ten pints of beer or the best part of a bottle of whisky. Down that in one go & you'd be in a bad way. Admittedly the main purpose of the yard glass in practice is to tip drink over the floor - either directly or by instant regurgitation - so this may not matter. But I wonder if toadface is misremembering something like the club initiation ritual I remember hearing of at Cambridge, which involved downing half a pint of port in one go (the equivalent of a mere quart of beer). A friend of a friend tried this (and failed). I never came anywhere near - to do it you had to be invited, and to be invited you had to have represented the college in two different sports.

BCFG said...

You wonder why this didn't get out before now. While Corbyn's life is being poured over by every establishment journalist it seems they forgot about the prime minister!

I was once lectured by a former Oxford graduate who stood up in class and told us she was raped at Oxford and that this was common practice and the response of the hierarchy was , "Boys will be boys".

When I think that a black person was given four years for taking a TV during the riots, we can extend that to "Boys will be boys, unless they are black, in which case they must be punished"

And if we then thin that the reaction to the VW emissions scandal is that some execs may loose their job, the quote, one rule for them, another for us has never been more appropriate.

4 years for taking a TV, a bit of a reprimand for knowingly destroying the planet!

jim mclean said...

Dave had to write lines in Latin after being caught with grass at Eton, I assume this light sentence was because he co-operated with the School authorities as the other boys were expelled. No Police called. Now what are the Tory proposals in the current war against drugs?

Durkheim said...

I'm pleased to see the rehabilitation of Functionalist anthropology here. Find an exotic tribe and no matter how bizarre the behaviour appears to be, understand it as a phenomenon which contributes to social solidarity.